Thursday, June 29, 2017

Watching Love in Action

By Esther Carey, an intern with the Samaritan’s Purse communications team who traveled to Joplin for the last home rebuild dedication.

One morning on the drive to work, I heard the tail end of an interview on the radio. A Christian asked an agnostic about his perception of Christians. The person being interviewed said he did not like them because the ones he had spent time with only went to church because it’s a fad, not because they really want to follow the teaching of Christ.

“Is there anything, in all honesty, that would change your opinion of Christians?” the interviewer asked.

Samaritan's Purse Joplin Rebuild

Once the home dedications were complete, volunteers and homeowners joined together to celebrate with a cookout.

The man responded that if he saw a group of people who actually lived out what Christ taught and loved other people rather than using their religion to “persecute others,” that could change his mind.

I wish I could show him what I witnessed the weekend of July 19 because it would definitely match his criteria. I had the privilege of joining the Samaritan’s Purse team in Joplin, Missouri, for its last weekend after a year and a half of rebuilding homes for 15 families and repairing eight other houses. I saw the principles of Christ in living, breathing, loving action there.

I interviewed six homeowners who had received new houses because of our team’s work. Several of them testified that the attitudes of the staff and the scores of volunteers—giving and giving, expecting nothing in return—demonstrated true Christianity. Their voices would choke up with emotion as they talked about how they could never say thank you enough.

Every homeowner I talked with said that the process of rebuilding after the tornado of May 22, 2011, had either given them new faith or strengthened their existing faith in Christ. Listening to their stories, I could see in vivid color the power of Christ’s love at work—love that changes hearts and lives. I also saw it in action. I watched as people hugged and cried at the homeowners’ farewell cookout for the staff and volunteers. These were not merely acquaintances or business-type relationships. This was family, just as one of the homeowners said.

I also interviewed a few of the volunteers from the last week’s crew. They came from all over the country for one purpose: to help those in need. Two young women from Michigan and Tennessee each drove to Missouri to volunteer. A father-son team from North Carolina came out for a week of service—and this was their third trip. A teacher from Florida gave up two weeks of her summer vacation to paint a new house for someone she did not know before she came. A woman from Missouri volunteered for the sixth or seventh time in memory of her daughter. And that is only a small sample of the more than 1,300 people who sacrificially gave of their time to this Samaritan’s Purse rebuild project.

Samaritan's Purse Joplin Rebuild

Volunteers gathered with family to celebrate the dedication of Lacy Tasker’s house.

What impressed me most about the volunteers was their humility. It’s not that I expected them to be prideful, but I was surprised that they all focused on the blessings they had received from the other volunteers or from the homeowners rather than what they had contributed. It was as though every person involved felt that they had received more than they had given. That attitude created an environment of mutual thankfulness and love that was beautiful to see.

As a writer, it is my job to try to put the stories I heard and saw into written form. Never before have I felt so inadequate for the task. The Apostle Paul begins his treatise on love with the following words: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1, ESV). I would add “or write” to the beginning of that sentence. Nothing I can write can truly convey the beauty of the community I found in Joplin.

I went, in a sense, to minister to the people there by hearing their stories and to share those stories with Samaritan’s Purse supporters. But, as so often happens, I ended up being ministered to in the process. They taught me more by their testimonies and examples than I ever expected to learn in one weekend.

So I’d like to thank everyone I interacted with in Joplin. Thank you for taking time to share your heart with a stranger. Thank you for trusting me with the treasure of your story. And thank you for the lessons you taught me. Even though I knew most of you for fewer than 24 hours, I hope I never forget what I learned.